I was in shock, I didn’t believe it! It didn't make any sense to me. I put down the phone and sat there for a moment in stunned silence.
Given the right circumstances, Listeria is a pathogen that can easily cause illness or even death. This was serious. But the plant that manufactured this cheese was one of my best plants, and it just didn't make sense to me. We contacted FDA and told them what was going on, started the necessary recall procedures, and the next day I was on a plane to California to visit the plant. That plant became my home for the next two months.
The Risk of Recall is Real
The plant was shut down during that period of time. There were press releases. There was media. People were out of work. The public needed answers, and it was costing the company millions and millions of dollars. Our loyal consumers wanted to make sure that our products were safe, and it was my job to make sure they were.
We tore that plant apart. We looked everywhere trying to find the problem. At first, we didn’t find anything. It was hard to find because the contamination was sporadic. Only a very few were positive.
But finally we found it, and I knew it was true: We found Listeria in our plant.
There was something going on, but what was it? What was the culprit in the plant?
After a while, we found it was an old packaging machine. This machine wraps the paper around the outside of the Brie, and hidden down inside that machine in the very bottom was a tiny little area hiding a bit of old cheese that wasn't getting cleaned out. No one could see it. No one knew it was there. It was really easy to miss.
The cheese wedges went on a belt around that machine, and those pieces would touch that contamination source every now and then. We found where the Listeria was growing and our company did the right thing. We returned the product from the markets and luckily no one got sick - or worse. I was very thankful for that, no one wants people to get sick under any circumstances.
Imagine This Nightmare Scenario
You're at corporate in your office on a Friday afternoon, casually talking with a member of your Board of Directors.
All of a sudden you get a panicked call from the receptionist at the front desk. FDA is at the door! All your operational people and your VP of QA are off in the field doing what they need to do. No one else is here.
She tells you that there are five investigators at the front desk and they want to come in and meet with you. They flash their badges and say they want a conference room and a meeting with the CEO in 15 minutes. They say they have reports of complaints and illnesses from your products. They want an explanation now — or they are shutting you down.
How do you react? Are you personally prepared for that discussion?
Assess Your Current Processes
Your food manufacturing process contains inherent food safety flaws. Now they're not there on purpose, they're there because it's how things happen in companies. Companies manufacture products because they fill a niche. Food safety is assumed — or it's built in afterwards. This puts you at risk in ways you may not realize. Often companies are asked to manufacture products in occupy plants that weren't originally designed to produce those products. That causes a lot of hidden risk scrambling.
Conduct an Enterprise Risk Assessment
One way to be prepared is to create an enterprise risk assessment to identify risks related to:
Pathogen contamination and foodborne illness
This is the evolution of corporate compliance. So what is an enterprise risk assessment? In summary, it's a process where you can identify and mitigate those risks which will help maximize the earnings for your company and avoid catastrophic type expenses. This is an enterprise-wide process — not focused on one specific plant.
Here’s why you need to do this.
The assessment begins at the corporate office and then drills down to the plant level from there. It also goes all the way through the supply chain and the process of sourcing raw materials and packaging materials to evaluate the type of risks that those can introduce, as well.
Want to learn how to create an Enterprise Risk Assessment? Watch the webinar.